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Jeff Bezos is the most important business leader of our time, and if you want to know how he got that way, you can find it in the very first letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. Back then Amazon.com had annual revenue of $148 million—compared with $280 billion today. But his message was crisp and clear: Focus on the long term; obsess over customers; make bold not timid choices; set a high bar in hiring; and you will create “an enduring franchise.”
Ever since, Bezos—modeling Warren Buffett—has laid out his business thoughts each year in clear terms in his annual letter to shareholders. Until now, no one has thought to pull those letters together into a book. That may be partly because of Bezos’s fraught relationship with much of the book publishing industry.
But today, PublicAffairs and Harvard Business Press are announcing plans to publish Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos, which brings together 23 years of annual letters, notable interviews, writings, and speeches, and a 10,000-word introduction penned by Walter Isaacson—biographer of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci. Isaacson puts Bezos “in the same league as my other subjects.” The book provides a compelling window into Bezos the man and Bezos the business phenom.
Credit for this unusual creation goes to Peter Osnos, founder of PublicAffairs, who considered Bezos’s 2018 letter oddly compelling. Working with Amazon’s top communications executive, Jay Carney, and his colleagues at Hachette, which owns PublicAffairs, Osnos was able to hammer out a contract acceptable to all parties. It is not an Amazon-sponsored book. The contract was signed by Bezos himself, and all proceeds will go to philanthropy.
There are lots of great bits of Bezos wisdom to be found in the pages of Invent and Wander. A few of them:
“You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.” —1997
“Our vision is to use this platform to build Earth’s most customer-centric company, a place where customers can come to find and discover anything and everything they might want to buy online.” —1999
“Our shares are down more than 80 percent from when I wrote you last year. Nevertheless, by almost any measure, Amazon.com the company is in a stronger position now than at any time in the past.” —2000
“We have a cash generative operating cycle because we turn our inventory quickly, collecting payments from our customers before payments are due to our suppliers…Forced to choose between optimizing GAAP accounting and maximizing the present value of future cash flows, we’ll take cash flows.” —2004
“Your team of missionaries here is fervent about driving free cash flow per share and returns on capital. We know we can do that by putting customers first. I guarantee you there is more innovation ahead of us than behind us.” —2007
“As regular readers of this letter will know, our energy at Amazon comes from the desire to impress customers, rather than the zeal to best competitors.” —2012
“We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of ‘study hall’…Some have the clarity of angels singing…Sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum.” —2017
“It’s still Day 1.” —2009–2019
The book is scheduled for publication in November.
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